On February 4, the Cultural Research and Celebration Club (CRCC) hosted a panel on Black Joy for the upper school community. 11th and 12th graders attended the live presentation while 9th and 10th graders tuned in via livestream. The panel featured members of the MMFS community: April Simmons (MMFS ‘15); Yemane Charles, (MMFS ‘17); and Nova George (former faculty). Joining them were award-winning artist and educator Sakinah Iman; filmmaker and author Vance Brown; and Bronx-based hip hop artist Prince Wiser.
Faculty members Candace Holmes and Victoria Muñoz-Lepore, who facilitate the CRCC, wanted to put on an event during Black History Month that would be centered on Black Joy. “We tend to hear a lot about trauma, pain, and hardship during Black History Month,” Candace shared as she introduced the panel. “But we are changing that today. Our panelists have come here to speak with you all about how they create opportunities for Black Joy in their lives and strive for Black Excellence, while simultaneously facing the everyday challenges of Black individuals in America.”
Sakinah opened with an uplifting song, setting a tone of love and encouragement. She moved through the audience confidently, captivating the audience with her powerful vocals and reminding students to love their skin and know their worth. “Nina Simone says we have a responsibility to show the things we need more of, and that’s what I do.”
Prince talked about his roots in the Bronx and his experience working in the hip hop industry, noting, “Nothing is more important to me than what I am doing right here, right now, speaking with you all today about Black Empowerment.”
Vance spoke candidly about his work with Black boys and men, using yoga and meditation to help them heal. “Black Joy is medicine to me. It’s sacred. And it is something I’m constantly unpacking the layers of.”
Nova, currently a second-year Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary, spoke about their spiritual work and reflected, “I’m a lot of things, but one of the things I think about when I think about Black Joy is that I am a student.”
April, a third-year Doctor of Audiology student at Towson University, talked about her academic journey and how Black Joy inspires her to work in the field of audiology. “The field has a lot of work to do in serving the needs of disenfranchised communities, and I’m going to be a part of that work.”
And Yemane (who recently graduated from American University and has started his career in marketing and production) shared, “To me, Black Joy is providing opportunities for other Black people.” Reminding students that he was in their shoes not too long ago, Yemane stated, “I did a lot of fighting to get my voice heard when I was here. After we leave you all need to keep pushing for more programming like this.”
Candace asked the panel to discuss some of their earliest memories of Black History Month and how they felt about it. Most shared that they grew up in Afrocentric homes where Black culture and history were celebrated every day. But Black History Month was often an uncomfortable tradition they were required to endure in predominantly white schools and spaces.
“Black History Month was created for white people,” says Yemane. “There is so much more to Black history than MLK and Harriet Tubman.”
Vance spoke passionately about the contributions to human civilization that Black people have made, yet continue to be ignored by society. “So much of modern western thought and technology is derived from African roots, but that’s been erased.”
April shared her experience growing up as a Black student in predominantly white private schools. “It really took a toll on me because I couldn’t identify with most of my teachers and classmates.” Then she talked about her first trip to South Africa. “I felt so at home. I spoke with the Black South African students. We talked about what it felt like to be Black. I realized how diverse Black culture and history really are. I see the commonalities, but also the beautiful differences.”
Before closing, the panel was asked to offer advice to the Black students in the room. The group unanimously encouraged students to be true to themselves, take care of themselves, and never give up on themselves.
“Be kind to yourself. Take your mental health days. And never let anyone talk down to you,” asserted April.
“Create a space with your community that is full of love and respect for all of you, however you show up,” encouraged Vance. “You are more than what you see in the media. Man, I wish I had had something like this in school!”
“Quiet the mind. Listen to the voice inside of you,” said Sakinah. “That is your higher power telling you what your purpose is and what you should be doing on a daily basis. Never let negative voices tell you that you can’t do something.”
Yemane concluded the conversation by urging students to start networking in Black circles now. “Nothing is more important than learning now to maintain relationships and network with people. It’s never just what you know, it’s who you know.” He went on to talk about the Black MMFS faculty members who still support him, and the positive impact they have had on his life long after graduation. “You will have to work harder because you’re Black and you’re LD. Embrace it. I promise you this will make sense to you eventually. Everything is gonna be OK.”
Click here to view the photos from this joyous event.